Sunday, December 10, 2017
Editorials

Editorial: Irma tests elected leaders, changes after Andrew

With Hurricane Irma poised to punch Florida in the gut, the U.S. House on Friday overwhelmingly approved a $15 billion disaster aid package that should keep relief efforts here and in Texas running for the time being. The legislation, which also extended government funding and the federal borrowing limit until December, was the first significant display of bipartisanship between President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats. That sort of collaboration will be necessary from Washington to Tallahassee to ensure Floridians get the assistance they need in the aftermath of this powerful hurricane.

The legislation should help both Texas and Florida cope with major storms. It includes $7.4 billion for grants for housing in affected areas and another $7.4 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which otherwise would have risked running out of funding at a critical time. There also is $450 million for the Small Business Authority disaster program. Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, with her hometown preparing for a direct hit from Irma, urged her colleagues to vote for the package. Inconceivably, two Florida Republicans — Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach and Ted Yoho of Gainesville — voted against the legislation. They chose to remain ideologically pure on fighting a rise in the federal debt limit rather than acting in the best interests of Floridians facing a catastrophic hurricane.

This won't be the last time the president and Congress will be called on to help. Irma is larger than Hurricane Andrew, which devastated Miami-Dade County in 1992 and left behind more than $26 billion in damage. With Irma poised late Friday to cut a path up the length of the state, insurers say the losses could be far higher. That would require plenty of federal and state assistance, and Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran told his colleagues to be prepared for a potential special legislative session to respond — just as the Florida Legislature did 25 years ago after Andrew.

Fortunately, Florida is better prepared for Irma. Statewide, structures now have to be built to withstand winds of at least 111 mph. Miami-Dade and Broward counties have even tougher building codes. Those more stringent requirements will be tested like never before by Irma, and while there still could be significant damage, the tougher codes are bound to help.

Second, the state's property insurance market is in better shape than it has been in years. State-run Citizens Property Insurance, which was created after Andrew and for years was the largest insurer, has scaled back to about 450,000 policies. It has more than enough money in reserve to cover its claims after a 1-in-100-year storm, and it has access to enough money to cover about double that much. The state Hurricane Catastrophe Fund, which can step in if insurers run out of money to pay claims, also has healthy reserves of about $15 billion in cash. The biggest question is how the untested smaller insurers that took policies out of Citizens will perform following Irma.

The focus today, of course, is on Irma's final approach to Florida and making last-minute preparations. This hurricane will test the state's emergency response, building codes and insurance industry. It also will test the ability of elected leaders at the federal, state and local levels to work together to help Floridians recover.

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Editorial: U.S. House sides with NRA over state’s rights on concealed weapons permits

With the horror of the mass shootings at a Las Vegas country music concert and a small Texas church still fresh, the U.S. House finally has taken action on guns. But the bill it passed last week won’t make Americans safer from gun violence. It is an ...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

There is no satisfaction for anyone in the standoff over pay raises between the Hillsborough County School District and its teachers. Most teachers across the nation already are underpaid, but this district simply cannot afford the raises teachers ex...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

With a buildout of $3 billion encompassing entire city blocks, it’s obvious that Jeff Vinik’s plans will change the look and feel of downtown Tampa. But the Tampa Bay Lightning owner unveiled a broader vision last week that reflects how far the impac...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/08/17
Editorial: Make texting while driving a primary offense

Editorial: Make texting while driving a primary offense

It is dangerous and illegal to text while driving in Florida, and police should be able to pull over and ticket those lawbreakers without witnessing another violation first. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has lent his powerful voice to legislation th...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17

Editorial: Outsourcing common sense on St. Petersburg Pier naming rights

St. Petersburg officials predict that selling the naming rights to parts of the new Pier could generate $100,000 in annual revenue. But first the city wants to pay a consultant to tell it how and to whom to sell the rights. Why do city officials need...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17

Another voice: Trump’s risky move

President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has a certain amount of common sense on its side. As a practical matter, West Jerusalem has been the seat of Israeli government since 1949, and no conceivable formula for Pa...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Editorial: Tampa’s MOSI reinvents itself

Editorial: Tampa’s MOSI reinvents itself

A tactical retreat and regrouping seems to be paying off for Hillsborough County’s Museum of Science and Industry. After paring back its operations, the museum posted a small profit over the past year, enabling the attraction to keep its doors open a...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Times recommends: McClure for Florida House District 58

Times recommends: McClure for Florida House District 58

Voters in Temple Terrace, Plant City and Thonotosassa have an easy choice in the Dec. 19 special election to replace state Rep. Dan Raulerson, who resigned for health reasons. Republican Lawrence McClure is the only credible candidate.McClure, 30, ow...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Editorial: Still waiting for flood insurance fix

Editorial: Still waiting for flood insurance fix

It has been 1,979 days since all heck broke loose in the flood insurance industry. Apparently, that just wasn’t enough time for Washington to react. So with the National Flood Insurance Program set to expire on Friday, it’s looking increasingly likel...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/06/17

Editorial: St. Petersburg should raise rates for reclaimed water

Raising rates on reclaimed water in St. Petersburg is an equitable way to spread the pain of paying for millions in fixes to the city’s dilapidated sewer system. The city has no choice but to start charging utility customers more as the sewer bills c...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/06/17